Donald Trump

Even with Merkel’s Leadership Coming to an End, the EU is the Moral Leader of the West

The Associated Press is providing hour-by-hour updates of the meeting of the G20. It’s politics meets social awkwardness, as the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin hang out in close quarters with world leaders from the EU and other regions.

Back before November 2016, when grown-ups still ran U.S. foreign policy, it would’ve been a no-brainer that the U.S. would have issued a joint statement with other G20 leaders condemning the murder of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi and also punishing Russia for stepping right over the edge of legality with their recent seizure of Ukrainian ships, part of their ongoing effort to claim the territory as their own, which has been an on-again-off-again Russian territory since at least the days of the British Empire.

But in the bizarro world we’re living in, the EU faction is writing its own statements upholding a rules-based international order and democratic norms, while Trump, Putin, and Mohammed bin Salman gad about in their own morally vacant, transactional, no-man’s-land.

Thank God for Old Europe, keeping it together for anybody who cares about making sure the Enlightenment project doesn’t collapse.

Midterm Results: Victory for the Democrats (Not with a Bang, But a Whimper)

Compared to the far more substantial opposition party victories in 2006, 2010, and 2014, last night was a disappointment, even an occasion for worry.

The attacks on democratic norms and institutions we’ve witnessed in the last two years, as well as the upheavals of foreign and trade policy by the Trump administration, should’ve triggered a recapture of both houses by the Democrats. Instead, we got a moderate swing toward the opposition party that could’ve happened in the midterm elections of any first-term presidency–albeit one that will insure the kind of basic check on Presidential power that the constitution was designed to enshrine.

As Bill Kristol has pointed out on twitter, the Democrats lack the discipline to stay on message—any message. And as David Brooks wisely pointed out, demography means that it is the Democrats who will be leading the country into a majority-minority future. If they don’t come up with an inspiring, unifying message, it will be left to the fear mongers to forge the emotional core of our national life. The sooner the Democrats forge their own coherent national narrative, the better their short-term electoral fortunes, and the better the health of the nation. It will be an uphill battle against social media, which is predisposed to negativity, but it is a battle they have to get serious about fighting.

Most worrying for democracy is the toleration in Georgia of massive voter disenfranchisement by a secretary of state who abused his office to win the governorship. Especially because it is politicians like Stacey Abrams, known for pragmatic bipartisan governance, whose “purple state” leadership will provide just the kind of unifying narrative our country needs to know who it will be in the 21st Century.

What did you think of the outcome of the elections?


Are you a sexual, racial, or religious minority? Vote to keep the protections in place that recognize your right to safety and dignity.

Are you a conservative who feels that we’ve lost our minds as a society? Vote to keep a sane connection to decency, decorum, and the ideals of the past.

Are you a progressive who believes that we could be on the cusp of a more equal, happier society, free of the irrational restrictions of the past? Vote to take another step toward that future.

I don’t care what your ideology is, just vote. Just try to vote *for* what you believe, not just *against* what your own side tells you to fear.

And, at the risk of being shrill, I’ll say it’s worth remembering the number of people here and abroad who have endured or are enduring torture, harassment, and the threat of violence and even death, all because they assert that they have the right to decide how they are governed.

If you’re an American alive right now, you’re still enjoying the freedom, safety, and abundance that a society built on classically liberal principles provides. Things are looking pretty bad right now, but we still haven’t lost everything.

So go vote to make sure we don’t!


In Context, Trump’s Comments on Khashoggi’s Murder Are Different Only In Style, Not In Substance, from U.S. Policy

It is altogether good that the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has become a rallying point for press freedom and freedom itself. As U.S. Congressman Christopher Shays has said, the issue is a referendum on “whether or not America stands for anything anymore.” In the United States, a thriving press predates and props up our democracy. Supporting a journalist speaking truth against a tyrannical king would seem like an instinctual position for an American President to take. Not so for Mr. Trump, whose concern for business has hindered him from properly condemning Khashoggi’s murder. The President has called the killing a “bad concept, poorly executed,” as if the suppression of free speech by murder were merely a botched subplot of one of his reality shows.

But in adopting Realpolitik in relations with the House of Saud, the President is not unusual. He’s just more clumsy about it than his predecessors in the Oval Office.

Though the Houthis, a Yemeni ethnic group, were providing us with intelligence against al-Qaeda (founded by a Bin Laden, a Saudi, lest we forget), President Obama chose to back the Saudi-supported Yemeni government in their war against the Houthis. This is in keeping with the last 70-years of U.S. support for the monarchs of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Trump has indeed chosen an awkward moment not to speak out swiftly and decisively in defense of democracy, and his sloppiness is eroding America’s soft power. But while his predecessors would have been quicker to condemn, you can be sure they would have still preserved the alliance we have with the Saudi Kingdom and the many benefits it brings us. Mr. Shays’s referendum rightly applies to more than Trump’s record alone, a fact which the rising partisanship around the midterms will obscure.

What business is Mr. Trump defending? His own real estate interests for sure, but also those of other real estate developers, who are rushing in to help the Saudi economy diversify as oil prices fall and as the oil reserves under the Kingdom’s deserts dwindle. The Saudis are still a major player in the global energy market, but they are no longer the world’s largest energy producer, and nobody knows how long they can continue to produce the amount of oil they are currently pumping out.